Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Do dogs have friends?

Depending on whether you ask a veterinarian, an animal behaviorist or a dog owner, you may receive a different answer to this critical question: Do dogs have friends?

Zeke and Arthur share a smooch.

Here at Happy Dog Land we've observed, entertained, loved and lived with countless dogs for many years. Based on that experience (and the fact that Billy fluently speaks "woof"), we firmly believe that dogs do indeed have friends. The photographs we chose to illustrate our point are not staged. Rather, they are snapshots of the relationships of dogs we know and love.

Lily and Louis enjoying the sun together.

Just as people are wont to do, dogs both like and dislike other dogs. For example, Jill's dog Shadow has decided that Arthur (Billy's mild mannered Cocker Spaniel) is his sworn enemy. Perhaps they both had their eye on the same mate in a former unneutered life or it could be that Arthur took a strong liking to Jill's son and Shadow is jealous. Although Shadow is perfectly happy to have Billy's other dog Zeke come and play, Shadow won't willingly let Arthur through the front door. When Baxter, a fluffy Coton de Tulear comes to visit, Shadow greets him at the door with crazed excitement and kisses. Shadow immediately gets into a play bow (front paws extended, head low and rear and tail up and loose), his entire butt is wagging and the joy in the air is palpable. Shadow clearly views Baxter as his friend.

Shadow and Baxter relaxing together.

When dogs share a home, they often become dependent on each other for emotional support and security -- just like we do with our friends. Arthur and Zeke are inseparable. When they are apart, each one is a bit anxious and lethargic. When they are reunited, even after a short break, they jump on top of each other and kiss and run through the house with expressions of happiness and relief on their faces. Their favorite way to relax is to lay on top of each other on the sofa and they often share a bone, each one chewing on the opposite end. Zeke and Arthur are more than friends. Indeed, they believe they are brothers and kindred spirits...and they are.

Maro and Spike play nicely together and share.

Pay attention to your dog's body language to determine whether he views another pooch as a friend or foe. If Fido's posture is loose, his whole back end is wagging, his mouth is relaxed and he's in a play bow, let him enjoy frolicking with the other dog. If Fido is stiff, baring his teeth, his tail isn't wagging or it's straight out, his ears are up or forward or his fur is standing on end (especially on the shoulders or hips a.k.a the "hackles"), he's telling you that the other dog is not a friend. Never force the issue. Remember, you can pick your friends and your nose, but you can't pick your dog's friends or your dog's nose. In addition, be aware of your dog's limitations: if he doesn't share, put away his bones and toys before a furry friend visits. Don't leave the dogs unattended, as play (even among friends) can occasionally get too serious.

So yes, we believe dogs can be friends. But don't assume that your dog will want to be friends with any other particular dog. Just as with people, some folks rub our fur the wrong way. So if you respect Fido's opinion, he can experience many of the same joys of friendship and companionship that you do. Except you may not want to sniff your best pal's butt!

Shadow and Bean resting after a long play date.

Some photographs by Michael Vistia, Vistia Designs


  1. Great post and great pictures! I feel sad that Cosette does not like to play with other dogs. She isn't mean. She just does not want to participate. Of course, her preference when another dog is too interested is for me to pick her up. I do not accommodate. If the other dog is too insistent she will snap at them...but never go after them. She has just been a mama's girl from the beginning. Is this a bad thing for a dog not to socialize with other dogs?

  2. Hi Sandra, you need to follow Cosette's lead (so to speak). If she is more of a people person, go with it. You should never force her to socialize against her will. Like many people, she may be more comfortable observing rather than participating. Jill's previous Black Miniature Poodle Shadow didn't like to play with other dogs either and it often stressed him out if we tried to get him to play when he wasn't interested. The hardest part of sharing your life with a beautiful pooch such as Cosette, is to avoid personifying her. If she's happy hanging out with you, give her a big smooch and tell her you love spending time with her too.